Obama picks Merrick Garland for Supreme Court, ‘one of America’s sharpest legal minds’ – Los Angeles Times

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President Obama said Wednesday that he will nominate federal Judge Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, challenging the resolve of Republican senators opposed to an election-year confirmation by naming an experienced jurist with a strong reputation as a centrist.

In an appearance together in the White House Rose Garden, Obama praised Garland as the kind of candidate he had promised to choose: one with sterling credentials and a widely respected temperament.

Garland is known as “one of America’s sharpest legal minds,” Obama said, who “brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence.”

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“These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration from leaders from both sides of the aisle,” Obama said.

Obama aides believe Garland’s nomination may move Republican senators off their repeated pledge not to hold meetings with the nominee of a president who has less than a year left in his term. Some officials in the White House even believe they stand a shot of getting a confirmation hearing for Garland in the Senate.

The selection of Garland, a judicial moderate who at 63 is older than the presidents’ other finalists, could be meant to signal compromise with Republicans on Obama’s part. Still, Obama has the opportunity to tilt the nation’s highest court to a liberal majority for the first time in a generation.

Garland, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was a leading contender for the last vacancy, in 2010. If confirmed, Garland would be the oldest justice to join the Supreme Court since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he took his seat in 1972. 

Garland, a Chicago native, was nominated to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1995, but only confirmed in 1997 after Clinton’s reelection. He previously had served in the Justice Department and oversaw the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people.

In recent days, the president had narrowed his field of potential choices to three: Garland and Sri Srinivasan, also a judge on the D.C. federal appeals court, and Paul Watford, a judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Obama has insisted for weeks that he would focus on a nominee’s credentials, rather than ideology.

In email to supporters earlier Wednesday, Obama said he had three main criteria that guided his selection: He wanted a justice with “unimpeachable credentials” and a rigorous intellect; someone who recognized the limits of the role of the judiciary; and someone with life experience who understood that justice “is not about abstract legal theory.”

His selection will shift the political fight that’s been underway for a month, over whether a president in his final months in office should be able to try to tip the balance of the high court for a generation.

Within hours of the news of Scalia’s death in February, Obama’s political opponents staked out their position: The seat should be left vacant until a new president was sworn in. “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Immediately after Obama’s announcement Wednesday, Republicans and conservative advocates reiterated the position.

“This has never been about who the nominee is,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a written. “It is about a basic principle … We should let the American people decide the direction of the court.”

Garland is “as good a nominee as anyone President Obama might plausibly have selected,” said Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, but his confirmation would “move the court markedly to the left.

“Senate Republicans should and must adhere to their position that no nominee should receive Senate consideration before the election.”

Democrats argue that voters did have a say when they elected Obama in 2012 to a second four-year term. But McConnell has not wavered from his view, even expanding on it to say he would not meet with the eventual nominee as a courtesy, as is custom.

Most other Republicans, to varying degrees, have said they support the strategy; all 12 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter saying they would not hold public hearings on the nomination.

But the committee’s chairman, Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, has acknowledged that some of his colleagues had misgivings about the letter. He himself initially seemed to waver on McConnell’s vow in the early days.

Obama’s choice puts some Republicans in a difficult spot, though. Several longtime members of the judiciary have publicly lobbied for Garland’s selection in the past — a fact noted by the White House as it confirmed the choice.

Seven current Republican senators voted to confirm Garland to his appeals court post in 1997.

A Republican-controlled Senate has not considered a Supreme Court nomination from a Democratic president since 1895, in Grover Cleveland’s second administration.

Obama put forth his first two Supreme Court nominations, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, when Democrats enjoyed a healthy majority, and each won with some Republican support. But only two current Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — voted to confirm both.

Whether Obama’s third pick will be confirmed depends almost entirely on how much pressure Republicans can withstand from the left and the evolving opinions of swing and independent voters ahead of the November election.

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In defending their refusal to consider the president’s nomination, Republicans have cited the past statements of Democrats in contested judicial nomination fights. Most notably they refer to what they’ve dubbed the “Biden rules,” referring to a June 1992 speech by then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, in which he urged a Republican president not to seek to fill a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court until after that fall’s presidential election.

Obama picks Merrick Garland for Supreme Court, ‘one of America’s sharpest legal minds’ – Los Angeles Times